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7 Common Car Shopping Mistakes

Between researching, test-driving and shopping for the best deal, buying a new car is difficult. It’s also expensive: A car is among the priciest items most shoppers will ever purchase. With that in mind, we want to make sure the process goes smoothly for you — so we’ve rounded up seven common car shopping mistakes. We’ve also included a few suggestions of how to avoid them.

1. Not running a vehicle history report

Unless you’re buying a new car, you should run a vehicle history report (such as a Carfax or Autocheck report) on any vehicle you’re considering. The reason: Even the most trustworthy seller might be trying to hide an accident, flood damage, an odometer rollback or other potential issues. And even if you aren’t worried about these things, the next owner probably will be, which could hurt you when it comes time to sell it. A dealer should be able to run a Carfax report for free, though you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket if you’re buying a car from a private seller. To us, it’s worth every penny.

2. Not getting a mechanical inspection

Cars are incredibly complex. They have to run the air conditioning, the stereo, the heated seats, the speedometer and dozens of other accessories, all while moving you safely down the street, stopping when necessary, and even providing protection in an accident. With so many parts that can break in a modern vehicle, we strongly suggest a mechanical inspection on any used car. Yes, it’s a hassle — and yes, it can sometimes cost a few hundred dollars. But if it saves you from spending thousands in the future, it’s a small price to pay.

3. Buying things you don’t need

One big mistake car shoppers make is tacking on too many accessories, such as alloy wheels, a sunroof or heated seats. But it can also mean dealer-installed items such as pinstriping, VIN etching, extended warranties, and wheel and tire packages — all of which can take an affordable car and push it well over a shopper’s budget. We strongly suggest considering exactly what you need before purchasing any vehicle — and only choosing options and accessories you find necessary. That may mean saying “no” to a salesman, but that’s OK.

4. Negotiating the price based on monthly payment

Negotiating the price of a car based on its monthly payment is one of the biggest mistakes a car shopper can make, for several reasons. The biggest is that it’s easy to make payments fit your needs by stretching them over a longer term. While that may seemingly make a car more affordable, it ends up costing much more money in the long run. That’s why we strongly suggest negotiating the total price first — then computing just how much it will cost you per month. If it’s still too high, keep working on the total price, or pick a less-expensive car.

5. Not taking a thorough test drive

A long test drive is key for most shoppers. While some drivers know instantly whether they like a car, others discover problems only after 20 to 30 minutes, or possibly even longer. Such issues can include uncomfortable seats, bad visibility, or a strange driving position, all of which can cause problems for years. That’s why we suggest taking a thorough test drive before signing the paperwork.

6. Falling in love with the car before you buy it

Though car dealers are rarely the questionable characters portrayed in most movies or TV shows, car sales is just that: sales. So if you fall in love with a car before you buy it — and if you show the salesperson that you’ve fallen in love with the car — you’re unlikely to get the best possible deal. While it might be hard, try to contain your excitement for a car until you’ve agreed on a price. Then you can be as joyful as you’d like. But until then, remember that keeping cool will help you when it comes time to negotiate.

7. Not shopping around

We suggest shopping around in two ways. First, when you’re choosing a car, we suggest test-driving as many competitors as possible. And when you’ve narrowed your selection, visit as many dealers as possible. The reason is simple: If you shop around, you might find a car you like more — or one you can get for less money than planned. While it can be tempting to pick one car to get the buying process over with, shopping around could save you lots of money.

What it means to you: We hope reading our list will help you avoid making any of the car shopping mistakes we’ve highlighted.

Equifax and CARFAX both provide services to customers

Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. As a professional car inspector, I highly agree with your article. You’ve covered the main bases in helping consumers avoid major pitfalls, of which there may be many.

    I would like to elaborate a bit on a few items. After running a history report, the readers should be alerted to the fact that not all accidents are reported, thus, will not show up on the history report. 
    This is another reason to have a car inspection before purchase, even if the seller (dealer) has inspected it. It pays to have another set of eyes that has no relationship to the seller. 
    Another point during the research phase is to read the professional and owner reviews from the internet to see what people who already own the vehicle are saying about their experiences with the vehicle as well as the dealer. 
    Finally, if the vehicle registration is not received after a reasonable amount of time, be proactive in following up with the dealer and department of motor vehicles before reaching the temporary registration expiration date. The transaction is based on trust and you want to keep honest people honest!
  2. You have to check the other associated costs (like gas, insurance, maintenance) before you buy. The car price tag might be cheap, but the repairs and everything might be expensive. You can find $25/month insurance from Insurance Panda sometimes, but only for certain cars. Also, you can fill up at the gas tank for like $15, but again thats only for certain cars. Check out the costs with car ownership before you make that purchase.

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